Ca Fait Longtemps
I have not updated my blog in such a while. Here’s a brief recap of things.
I spent Christmas and New Years in America. I had a really great time. I stayed home for a little under three weeks. I was able to see a large part of my family since everyone was in town for the holidays. America was definitely a great place for vacation but near the end of my time in the states I began to miss Guinea. I’ve been in Guinea for such a long time that I am simply used to living y life here. Being in America, took me out of that routine. Life is just so much simpler here. I don’t have all the amenities that I have in America such as running water & constant electricity but I’ve learned to live without a heavy dependence on these things.
In February, I visited Senegal for two Peace Corps related events. The first was the all volunteer conference in Thies, Senegal. This conference served as a chance for PCVs in West Africa to meet, share and exchange project ideas. I was able to meet other volunteers that are serving as PCVs in West Africa. The second event was the West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament (W.A.I.S.T). This is an event that happens annually around President’s Day and is organized by the US Embassy. The event was really fun but the best part was that it occurred in Dakar. Dakar is a very beautiful city.
Reconnect is training that happens around the midpoint of a Peace Corps Volunteer’ service. Reconnect is an opportunity for volunteers to exchange ideas, stories & experiences of their time thus far as a PCV. I really enjoyed the chance to have this opportunity. The best was hearing what other volunteers are doing site including the challenges and triumphs that one faces as a PCV. I was able to see that volunteers are facing the same challenges as me. When you are alone at site, it can be somewhat frustrating because things are not going well for you for whatever the reason (sickness, work issue, etc) and you may lose sight of the fact that there are others sharing the same sentiments. Volunteers in Guinea have been the biggest support group for me during my service. When I signed up for Peace Corps, the idea of becoming such close friends with other volunteers did not cross my mind. I thought that I would end up somewhere and be completely immersed in a foreign culture without much contact with other Americans. This has not been the case at all. I speak to volunteers daily via text message/phone call or I see the other volunteers that are in my city at least once a week for dinner. The chance to communicate with someone that understands what you are going through is invaluable throughout this experience.
This month, Guinea is scheduled to have legislative elections. These elections have been postponed for more than two years due to conflict among political parties due to ethnic conflict and general distrust about the fairness of the voting procedures. Elections in Africa are not the same as they are in developed nations. In Africa, there are often problems due to things such as ethnic conflict and corruption. Also, depending on the country, it could be still working out how democracy (or whatever form of government) will function in the society. During the fortnight before and after the elections, all of the volunteers in Guinea are on something we term standfast. During this time, volunteers are required to be at their site and travel throughout the country is not permitted. I am in big city with four other volunteers so the thought of being on standfast is not really a big deal to me. I live in the capital of my region so I’m essentially always at my site. If you were to ask volunteers that are in villages, they may have a different opinion.
Work in General
At this point, I have about 5 months left in Guinea. I have two major projects left before I conclude my service. The first is a training of university professors, youth groups leaders and NGOs on an entrepreneurship curriculum developed by a former PCV. Unemployment in Guinea is about 70 percent. This entrepreneurship curriculum responds directly to that need by providing students or trainees with the skills necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. The curriculum is comprised of 12 lessons including but not limited to accounting, marketing, conducting a feasibility study and business plan writing. I plan to conduct this training with about 40 participants in late November. I am currently applying for a grant from the Peace Corps in order to cover the costs of the training. The second project is an event to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS for World Aids Day in Decemeber. I am going to collaborate with the other volunteers in my city to organize the event. As of now, we are leaning towards having a 5K or soccer tournament with a health fair of sorts to raise awareness about HIV and general reproductive health.
For Thanksgiving, the volunteers in my region met in Kankan to celebrate the holiday. We had a really amazing time. We got to eat pork!!! Guinea is a predominately Muslim county and therefore eating pork is something that rarely happens due to the fact that Muslims do not eat pork. Thankfully, we found a pig farmer right outside of Kankan (at a Catholic church with a farm) that sells pigs. Buying a pig from a pig farm is something that would appear very simple, but as I’ve learned the past year, Guinea always throws in a curveball or two. I would try to explain but I am still not entirely sure what happened. But, that is my life in Guinea. There are times when I simply do not know what’s going on due to language, culture or just plain confusion but I just go with the flow and hope for the best and things usually work out. But, we were able to get the pig! We spent an entire day cooking the pig. Preparing something like this is not easy and I really valued the experience. I think every person that eats meat should understand what goes into getting the finished product. There is a ton of stuff that goes on before you walk into the supermarket and buy your prepackaged meat.
One Year in Guinea!
If I am not mistaken, I told you all in an earlier post that I was planning an Agribusiness conference. The conference was a collaboration between Michelle (another PCV in Kankan) and I. The purpose of the conference was to provide local farmers and gardeners with business skills. The conference took place on November 20th and it was really a success. The conference could not have gone any smoother. The topics of the conference included an Introduction on Agribusiness, Marketing, Accounting and Planning. We had 13 attendees most of which were primarily women. Everyone in attendance seemed ecstatic to be there. Throughout the sessions, we found it difficult to contain everyone because they were so filled with excitement from what they were learning. Many of them shared a sentiment along the lines of I have never thought about doing this (accounting, marketing, etc.) but it makes so much sense and will help me.
This conference was very special to me because it is the first project that I’ve done with a large group in French. My French has improved drastically since arriving in Guinea. When I first arrived in Kankan, I was not comfortable with the idea of facilitating or teaching in a large group because I felt that I still needed to work on my French. The fact that I was able to facilitate a large meeting in French is very significant because it is a symbol of the progress I’ve made with my French and also sets the precedent for what I can achieve during my next year of service.
I am very pleased that I was able to organize this event before my vacation in America. My vacation to America takes place during the midpoint of my service in the Peace Corps. I think that the time I spend in America will provide the chance to think more thoroughly about what I’ve done the past year. The Peace Corps is a very immersive experience and I think it is sometimes difficult to comprehend and value the importance of what is happening in front of you. When I am in America, I will get to live as a non-PCV for a while and I think it will add some perspective to the experience and reenergize me for the next year of service.
An old Peace Corps Volunteer and her husband were in Kankan for a night this week, I was really happy that I had the chance to meet them. We ended up having a dinner and had a great time discussing how much and how little the country has changed since she was a PCV. The chance to meet with a former RPCV only reaffirmed the decision that I made the right decision to join the Peace Corps.
In other news, Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! I will be in America for a little under 3 weeks from December to January and I could not be more excited. I find it very hard to believe that I have been in Guinea for a year. I feel like time has truly flown by.
Hello everyone! Just wanted to make a quick post. All is well on my end in Guinea. The past few weeks have been really busy. As I mentioned in the last post, Ramadan was a really great cultural experience. During Ramadan, many things occurred that will have a positive influence on the remainder of my service in the Peace Corps. During Ramadan, I got really sick because I ate some food that was not prepared very well. As a result of this, I began cooking for myself. The decision to cook for myself has been great. Cooking gives me one more thing to do each day and I really enjoy it. I just don’t enjoy doing dishes without running water because it takes so much time. Also, during Ramadan, I made a presentation to the primary organization that I am partnered with. I did this presentation because I felt that the reason I was with the organization was not entirely clear. I am my organization’s first peace corps volunteer. Additionally, I realized that dot not know anything about me besides the fact that I am American. The presentation served as a great opportunity to explain my past experiences, what I can do and what I would like to do for their organization. The presentation went really well and has had a positive impact on my work with the organization.
In addition to my primary work, I have decided to get more involved with Food Security in Guinea. Food Security is an issue that affects everyone in Guinea. There are plenty of people in Guinea that do not have access to food. My involvement with Food Security would help the fight against hunger in Guinea. For this reason, I find this initiative very important. As a result of this, I have attended two food security trainings offered by the Peace Corps. As a part of one of the trainings, I was able to help with the creation of a garden at a local orphanage. This was my first time doing any form of gardening. I had a really great time! I learned a lot about gardening techniques, specifically, Permaculture. Also, I learned that there are many things that one must consider when creating a garden. For instance, one must consider things such as which plants can share the same garden bed, soil quality and what type of garden beds you should use. I plan to use the information I learned from these trainings to have an Agribusiness conference in my city. This conference will serve as an opportunity for farmers and gardeners to learn business skills and improve their planting/farming techniques. The conference would also encompass the development of value chain activities for the products that they are growing and selling.
I am going to America for Christmas and the New Year! I am really excited. I am traveling home after being in Guinea for a year. I think it is perfect timing for a trip to America because it’s essentially the middle point of my Peace Corps service. Ahn Be!
Keila and I at dinner with a local family during Ramadan.
A family that I eat with quite often. I am very grateful for them!
First night of Ramadan. Eating with my hands for the first time.
Guinea is a country that is primarily Muslim and one of the major events of the year is Ramadan. For about 30 days, Muslims fast during the day and only eat early in the morning and at night. I decided that I would like to take part in this tradition. I like the idea of what the fasting represents. As one person told me, it is a way for people that are affluent or have means to experience what is like for one to have no food or water. I find the tradition to be very humbling. Ramadan began on July 20th so I’ve been fasting for exactly 3 days. Since Ramadan began, I have been waking up at 4am each morning to eat with my coworkers. At night, I have been eating dinner with different families in Kankan. Not being able to eat food or drink water during the day has been tough, but Ramadan has given me the chance to experience the kindness of Guineans. Each night during Ramadan, families get together to pray, eat and socialize. The times I’ve spent with families during Ramadan have been some of the most valuable cultural exchanges that I’ve had thus far. I am not sure how to really describe what I am experiencing but it is a really fun time. For me, what I’ve experienced each night during Ramadan is something that illustrates why I joined the Peace Corps. I am finding it very fascinating to learn about another culture. The more time I spend here, the better I am able to realize why things are the way they are in Guinea. I remember when I first came here and how I would question certain things and easily get upset. This mindset has definitely gone away as I’ve spent more time in this country. I would often only think of things from my perspective. I would question things like what do the Guineans think of me or why are they not understanding what I am trying to teach or explain. Now, I am able to approach any situation that I face here with confidence and a better understanding. I still questions things that I see here, but I do so in a manner to fuel my curiosity to learn about the culture. I no longer antagonize things that I think are weird or strange because they are different from what I know. I kind of feel like I am ranting but it is difficult to put into words how this experience is changing me and what I am actually experiencing. As I mentioned earlier, Ramadan is about 30days long and I plan to fast for the entire time. My drive to fast for Ramadan has been the interactions with the families. Every night, I plan to eat and pray with a family. I’ll do my best to take pictures and videos to document the experiences I have with the families. I hope all is well on your end!
Anonymous said: Hi Kenny, I will be in Guinea soon in July. I had a question about food. Did you have any trouble adjusting to food in Guinea? Did you get sick at all?
Personally, I have not gotten sick from the food but I have had diarrhea off/on since I arrived in Guinea last November. I have not cooked for myself since I’ve been here. Although, I know that this is not the case for everyone. I know that a lot of volunteers prepare their own food at site to avoid the possibility of getting sick. I guess it really depends on your stomach.